Mud Puddles & Dirty Dishes

My Someone and I were on our way to sit still in hot mineral baths in a dreamy, remote mountain town outside of Santa Fe for our anniversary at the end of February.

Which meant, of course, that I was taking the classic strategy of overthinking it by a long shot.

The pools varied in temperature and substance– lithia, arsenic, iron, soda, and mud. They officially touted a relaxing day. They unofficially promised healing properties. Which made me officially stressed out.

The day was a wash. We parked our janky camper in their beautiful woods rear of the resort. We used their fluffy towels and sat in the fizz of the soda pool, then the overwhelming heat of arsenic. We took a break to sip seltzer water with lime and eat tiny tacos. Then we returned to scrub on mud, let it dry, and wash it off. We tried our lot in lithia, iron, and arsenic again. I attempted to busy myself with a good book as we soaked in the company of other patrons, a monologue running in my mind wondering if I was relaxing, yet. Asking if I was doing it right. I only got one chapter through in the day on account of the foghorn of my own thoughts. How about now, am I relaxing now? IS THIS ENOUGH? AM I GETTING ALL OF THE BENEFITS NOW?

I wanted to hide. After dinner, I told my Someone to go on without me. I was incapable of being a normal person. He pushed a little more, and I relented for fear of being a monster person who refuses to soak in a tub with strangers on our anniversary. We picked the cliffside, and ended with the hottest soak on the property before calling it. We went back to our camper, picked up where we left off in Modern Family and fell asleep by 10PM.

When I woke up the next morning, you could’ve applied mascara in the still, serene reflection of my disposition.

The Tao te Ching speaks of water as being the most powerful force in nature. Tsunamis come to mind, of course; but tsunamis aren’t the source. It’s the quiet pools. Or, in my case, dirty dishwater.

Since last October, we’ve been without water in our camper. This is partially to travel as light as we can, but in winter, we run the worry of freezing temperatures coming to bust our pipes. So for the last seven years, for one half of the year, we live without a running sink. The solution to this is three big gallon water jugs and something we call Dishes Bag. After meals, we clean up and toss all of our dishes into Dishes Bag, and throw Dishes Bag into the shower (which has now become Closet for Dishes Bag and also for Shoe Bin). At the next host home or campsite, we take Dishes Bag to the nearest spigot and wash our dishes. While we try to wipe down the dishes before Dishes Bag, it’s not always the habit, and I found myself the day after our anniversary with a full Dishes Bag of dishes that were caked and crudded beyond the scrub of a sponge.

And then I remembered my power.

Alongside our camper in the cool of a New Mexico morning, I filled each dish with water and sat it on the ground. Then, I waited. I took my dogs for a hike in the sagebrush speckled mountains, alongside the shadowside of cliffs still spotted with snow. I stretched my limbs, more nimble now from the previous day of soaking myself. I showered. Then, I returned to my impossible dishes and found that they were powerfully disarmed– by being completely still in the water.

The power of water is not in its giant waves. Jesus (who I am convinced was a Taoist) didn’t walk on the storm of the sea and try to make it bigger– he calmed the waters down. The power is the stillness, not the show. The miracle is the quick swash of a sponge cutting across a curry-crusted pot, with no effort of my own.

Water is the most powerful force because it can do nothing at all, and its sustain can still move mountains.

While I am convinced of the power of the sustain, my practice of being water is fluid, changing with each vessel. Sometimes that looks like damming up to hold a boundary, as I did with my family. The power of the boundary let the dam break recently, but the sustain is the same, and I am more powerfully myself in the slow negotiations of reconciliation.

Sometimes the practice looks like consistently voting for good, even when evil abounds.

Sometimes the practice looks like silence, like listening, when I want to give a tsunami of perfect advice to my friends that will definitely for sure fix them… or drown them.

Recently, it looks like my friend Sheralyn, who has decided she is a mud puddle. As the world has been reopening, she herself has been staying much the same, puddling up from the last two years of isolation as she tries to figure out what is next. She’s not yet ready to be a river, or even to join the river. As I visited with her last week, I traced my mind for excellent ideas to help her (I have only excellent ideas for other peoples’ problems, and very few for my own). Instead, in her stillness, I could only think of my dirty dishes. So, I told her about my dishes.

She was delighted.

“Yes! I am a mud puddle!” she exclaimed in response, “And I know other people see me as an inconvenience, that they hardly notice me except to step around me, but I am going to remain a mud puddle right now. Right here in the middle of the path, looking up at the sky.”

A mud puddle sounded very powerful to me. In its stillness, it can change the path of hundreds of people, even slightly. But for those who choose to look into it, they will see the sky. And, they will see themselves. The importance of mud puddles is that they reveal who we are, too.

As I looked at my mud puddle friend Sheralyn, I saw me, too. I stopped trying to fix her stillness problem and instead fixed my not-still-enough problem. That’s the power of water– of mud puddles. Soak them in long enough, and without realizing it, you’ve changed.


  1. I don’t have any words of wisdom to offer except that I would imagine most of your hosts would welcome Dishes Bag in their sink and/or dishwasher and your laundry in their washer and dryer. I know I would. Haven’t you posted pictures of the two of you with your faces caked in mud before?

  2. Mal, you are one of the deepest, wisest, verbal poets I know…..I always learn from you. Thank you my friend….xxx

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